World

Freed hostages apologize as they return to South Korea

Nineteen South Koreans freed by Taliban insurgents after six weeks in captivity in Afghanistan returned home Sunday and once again apologized to their countrymen.

Nineteen South Koreans freed by Taliban insurgents after six weeks in captivity in Afghanistan returned home Sunday and once again apologized to their countrymen.

Carrying portraits of their two colleagues who were killed by the Taliban during the ordeal, the former hostages looked tired as they faced television cameras and bowed together in a show of respectupon their arrival at the airport in Incheon, west of Seoul.

Some South Koreans have criticized the Christian aid group members for travelling to a war zone in Afghanistan, despite government warnings that the country is unsafe.

In all, 23 volunteers from a suburban Seoul church were abducted on July 19 in Ghazni province aftergunmen stopped their bus on a highway from Kandahar to Kabul, one of Afghanistan's most dangerous routes.

During negotiations, the captors executed two of the hostages, Presbyterian pastor Bae Hyung-kyu and medical-services volunteer Shim Sung-min.

Relatives of thetwo menheld their portraits as they stood on either side of one of theremaining 19 hostages, Yoo Kyung-sik, who apologizedto the nation during a news conference.

"We went to Afghanistan to practise sharing love," Yoo said. "However, we were kidnapped accidentally, and caused the whole country to worry. We also apologize to the government."

Yoo also spoke for the group shortly after its release, speaking to reporters during a stopover in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

"I can't sleep due to concerns that we caused so much trouble," he said.

The group that arrived in Incheon on Sunday included12 hostages freed onAug. 29 and seven released onAug. 30. Two female hostages had been handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross as a goodwill gesture earlier, on Aug. 14.

Their release of the last of the hostages was negotiated by South Korean officials in meetings with the Taliban last week.

South Korea has denied paying a ransom to secure the hostages' release, despite at least one report that moneychanged hands.

A senior Taliban leader told the Reuters news agency that Seoulpaid $20 million US for their release.

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